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Poland’s judicial policy threatens payments from EU budget

WARSAW, Poland — Poland’s right-wing government needs to show that it has fulfilled all the democratic requirements before payments of tens of billions of euros from the European Union’s development funds can be made, a senior EU official said Tuesday. The right-wing government that won power in 2015 has been increasingly defying many EU regulations and also the 27-member bloc’s guiding role in the justice and lawmaking system, as well as in some social life areas. Vera Jourova, the deputy of the European Commission who is in charge of values and transparency, said that negotiations are still ongoing with Poland on the payments of 75 billion euros ($73 billion) from the cohesion fund. She said Poland’s new minister for EU ties needs to reassure Brussels that the recalcitrant government is making good on the promises it made this year to meet certain “milestones” and bring its judicial policies into line and guarantee judicial independence. “We don’t want to see the country of such importance, of such size, the Polish people being left without the EU support,” Jourova said in Brussels.Amid a drawn-out stalemate with Brussels over the rule-of-law and the judiciary, Warsaw replaced its minister for EU ties last week, appointing deputy foreign minister Szymon Szynkowski vel Sek to the post.The 27-member EU is highly critical of the changes that Poland’s government has introduced into the country’s judiciary as it tried to take control of the courts. Brussels has already frozen payment of much-needed billions of euros from its pandemic recovery fund for Poland. Freezing the cohesion funds, which refund infrastructure investments, would only add to Poland’s difficult situation.Jourova suggested there could be “some bigger political lack of will” in Warsaw, but that she hoped that “the Polish situation will progress well.”In Poland, opposition figures warn that it would be disastrous for the country if also the cohesion funds were withheld. Former prime minister and former EU leader, Donald Tusk, has blamed the threat to the disbursements on power infighting between Poland’s main ruling Law and Justice party leader, Jaroslaw Kaczynski, and the justice minister and author of the controversial judicial policies, Zbigniew Ziobro, who leads a small party within the ruling coalition. “They are at loggerheads and we are all paying for that, and the costs are going into hundreds of billions of euros,” said Tusk, now head of the main opposition Civic Platform party. Warsaw mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski says the “situation is becoming very serious” and could be prove catastrophic for local governments. Poland could lose funds worth about 530 billion zlotys ($107 billion), or the capital city’s budget for 25 years. Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki denied that Poland’s cohesion funds were threatened and insisted Poland has not made any claims for them yet. Seeking to end the stalemate over the pandemic recovery funds, Morawiecki agreed to lift the political control of the judiciary, but the EU says the pledges have not been met yet. ———This story corrects the spelling of EU official’s last name to Jourova.

Death toll from Russian warplane crash into city rises to 15

MOSCOW — The death toll from the crash of a Russian warplane into a Russian city rose to 15 on Tuesday, including three people who died when they jumped from a nine-story apartment building to escape a massive blaze, authorities said.A Su-34 bomber came down Monday in the Sea of Azov port city of Yeysk after one of its engines caught fire during takeoff for a training mission, the Russian Defense Ministry said. It said both crew members bailed out safely, but the plane crashed into a residential area, igniting a huge fire as tons of fuel exploded on impact. After hours of combing through the charred debris, authorities said 14 people, including three children, were found dead. Another 19 were hospitalized with injuries, and one of them died of severe burns at a local hospital, bringing the death toll to 15, said Anna Minkova, a vice governor of the region. Yeysk, a city of 90,000, is home to a big Russian air base.The Su-34 is a supersonic twin-engine bomber equipped with sophisticated sensors and weapons that has been a key strike component of the Russian air force. The aircraft has seen wide use during the war in Syria and the fighting in Ukraine.

EU faces battle to keep energy prices from tanking economy

BRUSSELS — European Union leaders enter a crucial stretch this week to make sure runaway energy prices and short supplies don’t further tank their struggling economies and foment unrest. At the same time, they need to keep all 27 members united in their opposition to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Leading up to Thursday’s start of a key summit, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive branch, proposed a blueprint on Tuesday that needs to reconcile the yawning gap between those who want to impose a common gas price cap to keep prices down and those who think it would primarily keep out supplies, further starving industries and businesses.Then, going into the weekend, EU leaders will seek a compromise during two days of talks, however hard that may be. As a sweetener, the European Commission also proposes to retarget some 40 billion euros in budget aid towards those most affected by the crisis. European Council president and summit host Charles Michel told the 27 leaders in his invitation letter that there were three lines of action: reducing demand, ensuring security of supply and containing prices. “Europe is facing its week of truth,” Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said. “This week it is hit or miss.” It didn’t take long for EU member countries to realize that the bloc’s dependence on Russian energy was a huge political error after Putin invaded neighboring Ukraine on Feb. 24 and natural gas prices skyrocketed. Amid sanctions imposed on Russia’s energy sector, the wealthy bloc of 450 million has since been struggling to find ways to keep freezing temperatures from entering the homes of the poorest and businesses from going down for lack of affordable energy.With nationalists and right-wing populists complaining ever more about the EU’s common approach, the ability to find a joint exit strategy from the crisis could have a direct impact on the bloc’s future. “The coming winter could freeze and shatter European sentiment — the shared sense of belonging, mutual trust among European countries, and citizens’ emotional attachment to the idea of Europe,” said Pawel Zerka of the European Council on Foreign Relations.Even De Croo, leader of one of the most EU-embracing nations, knows there is no more time to waffle. “The time for excuses has gone. if the EU still wants to be meaningful, contain energy prices and better protect families and businesses in this energy war, it finally has to deliver,” he said.De Croo has been pushing hard in recent weeks to cap the cost of all gas imports to the EU, with other countries like Poland and Greece also increasing the pressure on the European Commission. The body tried to find a common ground between juggernaut Germany, which doesn’t back a full gas price cap, and other countries which are convinced such a cap won’t lead to a decline of offer on the market. The European Commission proposed a compromise that would allow for a temporary correction mechanism to kick in in exceptional circumstances, and the creation of a new LNG gas index better reflecting the market following the drastic reduction of imports of pipeline gas from Russia.If any prodding was needed, the International Energy Agency did it early this month by saying that “Europe’s security of gas supply is facing unprecedented risk as Russia intensifies its use of natural gas supplies as a political weapon.” Even if hoarding of gas supplies has gone full thrust ahead and reliance on Russian provisions has dwindled to less than 10 percent, dangers still lurks. “The possibility of a complete cut-off in Russian gas deliveries cannot be dismissed ahead of the 2022/23 heating season — when the European gas system is at its most vulnerable,” the IEA said.And the energy crisis is ripping deep into the fabric of European society. The ETUC European trade union group said that wages adjusted for inflation have fallen in every EU member state this year by as much as 9%. Meanwhile, corporate profits continued to rise, sometimes by as much as 6.5 percent in Romania, it said. “People are missing meals, having to scrap the leisure activities. And families have to choose between filling up their cars or turning on the heating,” said Manon Aubry, an EU lawmaker from the Left group.Against such a background of potential social foment, the EU leaders are in line to agree on a system to pool buying of gas to make sure member states stop bidding against one another to boost reserves and push up energy prices overall. Under the commission’s proposal, natural gas arriving through the entry points from Russia would be excluded from the plan.To get ready for possible shortages in the winter, the EU has already agreed to cut gas consumption by 15%. The European Commission also suggested Tuesday to bolster EU solidarity rules to make sure members can receive gas from the others in case of an emergency in exchange of a compensation.To counter the threat of business failures and industrial decline, EU nations have independently started subsidizing threatened sectors, at the risk of skewing the market. If a wealthy member state can throw billions of euros at an industry while a poorer one has to scrape by and look on jealously, the concept of the EU’s common market is under threat. This is why Germany’s 200 billion-euro plan to subsidize its industry to get through the next two winters has come under criticism by many. But then again, keeping Germany’s wheels of industry going, could also benefit all. “Usually what is good for Germany is good for us,” De Croo said.

New Swedish PM presents 3-party center-right government

STOCKHOLM — Incoming Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson vowed Tuesday to set the country on a new course on immigration, criminal justice and energy policy as he presented a center-right coalition government led by his conservative Moderate Party.The new Cabinet consists of 24 ministers — 13 men and 11 women. Thirteen are Moderates, six are Christian Democrats and five are Liberals. The three center-right parties secured a majority in Parliament after the Sept. 11 elections with the help of the Sweden Democrats, a far-right party that has entered the political mainstream after years of being treated as a pariah by the other parties.Moderate Party parliamentary leader Tobias Billstrom was appointed foreign minister while the head of Parliament’s defense committe, Pal Jonson, another Moderate, was tapped as defense minister.Christian Democrat leader Ebba Busch became energy minister, and 26-year-old Romina Pourmokhtari of the Liberals made history as Sweden’s youngest-ever Cabinet minister, in charge of climate and environment. Elisabeth Svantesson, the Moderate Party’s spokeswoman on economic policy, was appointed finance minister.The new government represents a sharp shift to the right for Sweden where the center-left Social Democrats had been in power for 8 years.In a speech to Parliament, Kristersson promised a review of the penal code and expanded powers to police to fight criminal gangs that have grown more powerful and violent in recent years.“No other country in all of Europe has the same trend of violence as Sweden: 53 fatal shootings so far this year, often outright executions,” he said. “The government now begins the biggest offensive in Swedish history against organized crime.”He also promised a “paradigm shift” on immigration, ending decades of liberal immigration policies that had started to tighten under the previous Social Democratic government.“Immigration to Sweden has been unsustainable,” resulting in poor integration, unemployment, insecurity and other problems, Kristersson said.About 20% of Sweden’s 10 million residents are foreign-born, many of them refugees from war-torn countries including Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia.Attitudes toward immigration have hardened in Sweden in recent years, fueling the rise of the Sweden Democrats, which is supporting Kristersson’s government in exchange for a say on government policy.Center-left opposition politicians have accused Kristersson’s coalition of shattering Sweden’s international reputation as a tolerant, welcoming nation.On energy, Kristersson signaled an expansion of nuclear power, which previous Swedish governments had started to dismantle. He said Sweden’s goal on electricity production would change from “100% renewable” to “100% fossil-free,” which leaves room for nuclear energy.The 58-year-old Moderate Party leader backs the bid by Sweden and neighboring Finland to join NATO, and said his government would stick to the previous government’s agreement with Turkey to withdraw support for Kurdish groups that Ankara accuses of terrorism. “Together with Finland, Sweden will complete the accession to NATO,” Kristersson said.——— Associated Press writer Jan M. Olsen in Copenhagen, Denmark, contributed to this report.———This story corrects the age of the new energy minister to 26, sted 25.

Turkey’s opposition seeks stay of ‘disinformation’ law

ANKARA, Turkey — Turkey’s main opposition party applied to the country’s supreme court on Tuesday seeking a suspension of the enforcement of a newly-approved media law that mandates prison terms for people deemed to be spreading “disinformation.”Last week, parliament approved a 40-article legislation that amends press and social media laws with the stated aim of combating fake news. Critics fear that the measure will be used to further crack down on social media and independent reporting as the country heads toward elections.The legislation, which was approved with the votes of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan ’s ruling party and its nationalist allies, came into effect with its publication in the Official Gazette earlier on Tuesday.The most controversial provision, Article 29, foresees up to three years in prison for spreading information that is “contrary to the truth” about Turkey’s domestic and international security, public order and health for the alleged purpose of causing “public worry, fear and panic.” Engin Altay, a senior member of the main opposition Republican People’s Party, applied to the Constitutional Court for the suspension of the implementation of Article 29.“This is a law that (aims to) present (the government’s) lies as the truth, and the truth as lies, and can’t be accepted,” Altay told reporters after submitting the plea.The party would seek the annulment of the entire legislation at a later date, he said. Erdogan argued for a law to combat disinformation and fake news, saying false news and rising “digital fascism” are national and global security threats. His Justice and Development Party and nationalist allies say disinformation prevents people from accessing the truth, undermining freedom of expression.The ruling party denies that the legislation aims to silence critics.

Missiles, exploding drones again hit Ukraine’s power, water

KYIV, Ukraine — Air strikes cut power and water supplies in a repeatedly bombed Ukrainian city and pounded energy and infrastructure facilities elsewhere in the country on Tuesday, part of an apparent quickening effort by Russia to drive Ukrainians into the cold and dark as winter bites.All of Zhytomyr, a city with military bases 140 kilometers (85 miles) west of the capital, was without electricity and water after a double missile strike on an energy facility, said Mayor Serhiy Sukhomlyn. Hospitals were left running on backup power, he said. Missile strikes also hit an energy facility in Kyiv and severely damaged another in the south-central city of Dnipro, authorities said. As well as missiles, Russia is mixing up its modes of attack. Suicide drones — so called because they slam into targets and explode — set ablaze an infrastructure facility in the partly Russian-occupied southern Zaporizhzhia region, the regional governor said.Air-defense S-300 missiles that Russia has been repurposing as ground-attack weapons as its stocks are being depleted were used to strike the southern city of Mykolaiv, killing a man whose body was found in the debris of a two-story building, the region’s governor said.In the eastern city of Kharkiv, rockets were used to hit an industrial area. The regional governor said the eight rockets were fired from across the nearby border with Russia.Waves of explosives-laden suicide drones had also struck Kyiv on Monday, hitting energy facilities and setting ablaze and partly collapsing buildings. One drone slammed into a four-story residential building, killing four people.Ukraine says Russia is getting thousands of drones from Iran. The Iranian-made Shahed drones that nose-dived with their explosive charges into targets in Kyiv on Monday have also been widely used elsewhere in recent weeks. In the past week alone, more than 100 of the drones have slammed into power plants, sewage treatment plants, residential buildings, bridges and other targets in urban areas, Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry said.In a televised address on Monday night, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia is using kamikaze drones because it is losing the war, now nearing its eighth full month.“Russia doesn’t have any chance on the battlefield, and it tries to compensate for its military defeats with terror,” he said. “Why this terror? To put pressure on us, on Europe, on the entire world.”———Follow AP’s coverage of the war in Ukraine: https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine

Australia and Singapore strike agreement to achieve net-zero

CANBERRA, Australia — Australian and Singaporean leaders announced Tuesday what they described as a world-first agreement to cooperate in transitioning their economies to net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Australia’s Prime Minister Anthony Albanese outlined their so-called Green Economy Agreement between the two countries after an annual meeting in the Australian Parliament House. The agreement has 17 components that cover facilitating trade and investment in green services, harmonizing standards and building green growth sectors through collaboration between business.Australia has committed to reducing its emissions to net-zero by 2050 and Singapore is considering adopting the same target.Albanese described Singapore as “one of the most innovative economies in the world,” while Australia had the potential to become a “renewable energy superpower” due to its vast open spaces and relatively small population.The agreement “will support clean energy innovation, unlock business opportunities and create jobs, and help deliver our mission’s targets while positioning Australia as a renewable energy superpower,” Albanese said.Lee foreshadowed further cooperation in cross-border electricity trade and “sustainable aviation” through what he described as the “world’s first such agreement.” ”These are all areas which are of interest to Singapore and to Singapore businesses and we hope with a Singapore-Australia GEA they’ll be able to move forward,” Lee said.“But we also hope with this GEA will encourage other countries to look at what we have been able to do and to ask whether some of this may not make sense to them to do with Singapore or to do with each other,” Lee added.Singapore is already planning to use solar power from northern Australia transmitted by a 4,200-kilometer (2,600-mile) submarine cable.Singaporean company Sun Cable plans to start construction in 2024 of the 30 billion Australian dollar ($19 billion) Australia-Asia PowerLink project that will include 12,000 hectares (30,000 acres) of solar panels near the northern Australian city of Darwin.Albanese described the export of Australian solar power to Singapore as an “ultimate win-win.”“If this project can be made to work — and I believe it can be — you will see the world’s largest solar farm, you will see the export of energy across distances … (and) the production of many jobs here in Australia, including manufacturing jobs,” Albanese said.